Checking accounts and fraud
CALIFORNIA -- I don't think I have ever really truly felt disappointment in any of the banks I've been with until now - with Washington Mutual. Years ago, I remember starting out with Bank of America and then moving to Wells Fargo because I always had some sort of a complaint about their outrageous fees or customer service. Eventually, I landed with Washington Mutual because of their "Free Checking" and being a college student, the word "Free" always meant a good thing, right?
So about a month ago, on a Sunday in November, there was an outrageous amount withdrawn from my checking account, using my debit card, or so I was told by a WAMU representative. Luckily, I must have caught it the day it had been done because it hadn't posted to my account yet. So I called the 1-800 number and talked to someone, who I guessed was not located at a U.S. call center since she had a very thick accent. I discussed my problem with her and calmly told her that I had not charged anything that huge to my account and that would they please block it from going through to keep my account from being extremely negative and me getting charged with an overdraft fee. Of course, the woman says "no, we can't do that. We have to wait for it to post..." I couldn't even file a dispute about it at that time! Basically she told me that I had to go for a few days with a -$900 in my checking account. I was furious! This wasn't a credit card, where I couldn't care less about the balance while the company did their investigation - this was cash that I had to live on to pay bills, eat, buy groceries or even pay my rent!! And they couldn't do a damn thing about it except wait for the fraudulent charge to go through?!
After the initial shock and frustration wore off, I walked into the nearby branch the next day and spoke to the branch manager. He didn't really tell me anything different - I have to wait for the amount to post, sign an affidavit the next day when the amount should have posted and then they'd go ahead with the investigation. He closed my current debit card and issued me a new one. About a week later, the mysterious pending charge went away - probably because there wasn't enough funds for it to go through! - and I thought OK, maybe they fixed it or it really was some sort of mistake on the merchant's side. I even though that may be WAMU was trustworthy, after all. By this time, I had received my new debit card - minus its PIN number, and it was right on time because I was due for a week-long vacation!
So what happens when I come back from vacation and try to cash in two refund checks I had received in the mail in one of their branches?? Can you imagine this - strolling into the branch to cash in checks right before work, thinking that you're only intent is to cash in the checks to have cash in your pocket since you can't access your account through the ATM. I get up to the teller window and she even tells me to sign the checks but a minute later she says that there was a restraint put on my checking account! The teller had to make some inquiry calls. So I've already waited about fifteen minutes in line and if I didn't leave right then I would be very late to work. After about three minutes that the teller was put on hold, I tell her "I'm sorry, but I can't just wait here while you're waiting on the phone because I have to go to work. I'll just come back tomorrow." And I left with my two uncashed checks and only about three dollars in cash in my pocket.
I returned the next day, about two hours before I was due at work to give myself plenty of time in the bank. I ended up speaking to the branch manager who told me the same thing. ACH put a restraint on my account because it had been compromised and that they couldn't do anything about my money in the account until they took off the restraint, which wouldn't be during the weekend. So he compromised with me - he would open a new account and cash my refund checks so I'd have money for the weekend. And that I just had to return on Monday to transfer my money from the old account. I said OK.
On Monday, I went back. Honestly, I was starting to get sick of having to go back to the bank almost everyday just to straighten out my account. I told the person helping me that I wanted to leave some money in my old account because I had an automatic debit going through for a bill. So she says OK, ends up transferring everything into the new account and tells me that there's a "penny pay-through" that would allow any automatic payments in the old account pull funds from the new account. And I said OK because it made sense to me. I asked her if I was able to use my new debit card and she assures me it does work - it is linked to the new account. Then I finally leave the branch, thinking "finally, it's settled, I have a new account that works." And what happens to me at a department store when I try to buy a simple gift certificate?? The card doesn't work. I try to pay with a new check I was issued when I opened up the new account. That check doesn't work as well! I end up paying with cash and going back to the bank branch. I told them neither the card nor the check worked. What the hell was I supposed to do?? They still assured me that the card should work and that the checking account was active - maybe it took a day for the systems to update. Great, so I decided to pull out a bunch of cash for just in case, leaving a good amount in the account for my automatic charges.
The next day I decided to check my balance to see if my automatic payments went through. One went through for my cellular phone payment. But to the old one where there was no longer any money in it. My question - what the heck happened to the penny pay through crap?? So I had to take care of this. Luckily, I was able to transfer funds back from my new account to cover the balance but I definitely refused to pay the overdraft fee that they were trying to charge me. Why should I pay for it when they obviously know I have money with them and it was them that made me transfer everything over in the first place instead of leaving some money in the old account. I had to talk to about three or four different people before I finally got to a supervisor who was able to credit me back for that overdraft fee.
My only problem left was the most important preauthorized payment I had that should have gone through did not. Another WAMU customer representative told me that the payment had been bounced back to the company instead of pulling funds from the new account. So instead of calling the 1-800 number again I call my branch instead and spoke to the bank manager who had opened up my new account. He was unable to reverse the blocked payment but he offered to pay any fees the company charged. After I called the company they said they couldn't set up another automatic debit - it was either a MO, cashier's check or a wire transfer, which all of them costs a certain fee, plus whatever fee the company charged me for the unsuccessful debit.
It was like one problem after another after another. I didn't even get a single call from WAMU to notify me of the "restraint" they put on my account. They're online banking says they'd send an email. But if you're going to put a restraint on a person's checking account which would you prefer - contact via email or via phone? I would prefer to be notified by phone where an actual person explains to me WHY. OK, I understand it's a means to solve the compromised account but they should really let you know ahead of time and not just do it so I find out when I walk into the branch and all I'm trying to do is cash in a simple check.
This situation just makes me feel uncomfortable with this bank and completely unable to trust WAMU with my hard-earned money or automatic bill payments. It's just a huge, huge inconvenience for me to pay extra fees just to wire a payment because the payment of the month was bounced back - courtesy of WAMU, when I was told - assured - that it should have gone through after opening and transferring money into a new account.
The bottom line? I'm saying good-bye to the bank I was so loyal to for 6 years. I'm so extremely disappointed in your services and don't think I could ever do business with you again.
By the way, did you know that many of WAMU's call centers are located in the Philippines?? Sometimes it's even hard to understand the person you're talking to because their English is limited. It's true. I found the information online.